tv Fault Lines Al Jazeera October 23, 2014 5:30pm-6:01pm EDT
haiti, october 2010, at a hospital in a small, rural town north of the capital. these were the first victims of a horrific, unknown disease in a country still reeling from a devastating earthquake. patients were dying in the space of a few hours. children were especially vulnerable. al jazeera was the first news channel on the scene. in the following days and weeks we tracked the epidemic as it ripped across the country. leaving dozens, then hundreds,
and soon thousands of haitians dead in its wake. i'd reported from war zones for years - and from haiti since a day after the earthquake - but this was a new disaster that shocked the world. cholera had somehow arrived in haiti - and it wasn't long before rumors that un nepalese peacekeepers were involved led us to a base on the banks of the country's largest river. >> what are you digging, why are you digging here? well we're not being told exactly what's going on here, but it certainly smells like sewage, there are toilets right there, and the liquid seems to be draining into this river just a few meters away that flows into the nearby town of mirebalais. >> back then, it felt like we'd stumbled on the scene of a crime. now, after a series of investigations - including by the un itself - it seems that's exactly what did happen. >> in the more than 2 years since we first visited this site, almost everything that we suspected - from the scenes that
we found - now appears to be true. scientists have said that the cholera found in that river is almost identical to a strain of the disease found in nepal before those soldiers were deployed. even bill clinton - the un special envoy to haiti - has said that un peacekeepers from that base are the likely source of the disease in haiti. but the one thing that hasn't happened is that the un hasn't accepted any kind of liability for bringing the epidemic to this country. in fact, at this point, they still won't even talk about it. it's been more than two years since cholera appeared in haiti and we're driving into one of the most isolated areas of the country. communities up here in the mountains surrounding artibonite river are almost completely cut off from basic services. clinics, running water, even
roads here are almost non-existent. up here, catching any kind of disease is a serious matter, one that kills as quickly as cholera can be a death sentence. >> it is impossible, really, to imagine how somebody could get along paths like this to medical facilities within a few hours to save lives from cholera. this is the kind of scenario here, and the reality is that many of them don't - and we're on our way now to a funeral at the very top of this mountain for a man who didn't make it. when he died from cholera, farius eugene was 64 years old. he was a leader of the community in this tiny mountain-top village, and a father of three. farius fell ill just days ago. from his house its about five hours walk to the nearest clinic.
farius's neighbors say there have been around 200 cholera deaths in the area since the disease first appeared. as a un helicopter flies over the funeral, we're told that nobody here has any idea how the outbreak started. as in many of the communities in this region where cholera is rife, death has become a part of everyday life. but that doesn't lessen the grief. farius's coffin has been carried
all the way up the mountain. his eldest son leading the way. they've been running for hours so that the burial can take place before dusk. in villages like this across the country, this is a scene that's been repeated thousands of times. farius is the latest victim of a disease uknown in haiti two years ago, but that's now a leading cause of death in the country. >> faris's death from cholera won't actually be counted in any official statistics. there are no ministry of health personnel who know about this, or ngos... this is just one example of how the death toll from this epidemic could be much higher than anyone knows. in cemeteries dotted around the
mountainside, the scale of this epidemic is easy to see. >> so this one as well, is a cholera victim? >> there, there, over there as well. josephn darius can't remember how many victims he's buried, but one in particular stands out in his memory - his sister. outside the cemetery, cholera victims have gathered for a monthly meeting to discuss ways of dealing with the epidemic in their midst.
everyone at this meeting has either been infected with the disease or had a family member die. >> so how many people here actually knows someone that's died of cholera? as the meeting adjourns, we're told of an urgent new case - an elderly woman living close by who's in a critical condition. saintilia hillaire is losing strength fast... but her relatives are worried the journey down the mountain might kill her. >> the sun is very bright at this time of day so they were going to wait until later, but we've offered to give them a lift and drive them all the way down the mountain to the nearest cholera treatment center. they decide to make a run for it, taking it in turns to carry her over the rice fields along mud paths to where the road
with very limited resources mario is representing thousands of haitians who've been affected by cholera. it's the case of his life - they're trying to sue the united nations. >> the united nations have a lot of money, we don't have. and they have a lot of -- a hundred thousand lawyers. we have only 12! the balance is for them. if they need to comply with the law, the balance is for us! >> the lawsuit - filed in november 2011 - claims that un failures to screen its soldiers for cholera and follow international rules on waste disposal constitute gross negligence. it's based on the un's own investigation which concluded that the nepalese base leaking sewage into the river was a likely source of the outbreak.
and it's composed of thousands of stories of personal loss, each one documented by mario and his team. the next meeting is in mirebalais... the town that's home to the un base where the disease is known to have started. henrietta paul's husband was one of the very first to die. she doesn't know exactly where he's buried - back then the death toll was so high that bodies were being dumped in mass graves. today, she and her daughter lisette are filing a new claim. henrietta's only son, died three weeks ago from cholera. he was 34.
back at their headquarters in downtown port-au-prince the fruits of the lawyers' painstaking labor is kept in a dusty store-room, still waiting for the day it will be used in court. >> these are all the case files in here? >> yes, this is the first five thousand filed. not only have we filled the form, they're notarized. they said "we received the complaints, we will give you an answer and respond in due time" - i don't know when the reasonable time will be. >> but it's been more than a year? >> more than a year, yes. >> and you've heard nothing? >> nothing, nothing. >> faced with the un's silence, the lawyers decided to expand the lawsuit, adding more names to the thousands who'd already
filed a complaint. >> un have to respond. >> un must respond. they promote human rights. we will continue to fight. until they respond, we will file complaints. for all the people! the 2010 earthquake killed more than 220,000 people - those who lost their lives are remembered each year with dignitaries from around the world coming to pay their respects. but for those who've died - and continue to die - from the cholera epidemic there is no day of mourning. and even senior un representatives are staying silent on whether the victims' families deserve any compensation for their loss. >> you've said the un introduced
cholera to haiti. do you think they should be liable for all those deaths? there's nearly 8,000 people who've been killed... >> that's a decision someone else has to make now. i think the most important thing is that the un asked paul farmer to oversee the response. we've got the infection and mortality rate cut in half and i think it can be contained. so i'm encouraged by that. >> but there's 8,000 people already dead, mr. president. who should answer for those people that are already dead? mr president? >> thank you, thank you, thank you. >> well the ceremony's over and the cavalcade's now leaving and we still haven't got any answers. bill clinton there saying it's not for him to decide whether or not the un is liable. but he's actually said that the un brought the disease to this island, so if he can't answer the question about accountability, it's not really clear who can. our next stop: un headquarters in haiti. here, at least we'd be able to
find out why mario's clients had been waiting over a year for a response to their lawsuit. we'd been promised an interview with nigel fisher, the head of the un mission in haiti that's known by its acronym "minustah". >> well hi, is that nigel fisher's office? hi is that nigel fishers office? hi there, i'm trying to get through to nigel fisher's office, there doesn't seem to be anybody answering the phone now. >> but it was proving difficult to get hold of him. >> hello, there's still no answer from nigel fisher's office. it doesn't look like it's going to happen. ok well, i guess we'll just do what we can to try and catch up with him. but just as we were about to give up... >> this is nigel fisher, this is the man we've been trying to find all afternoon. it seems he's finally turned up, so we'll see if he's actually going to answer our questions. >> you remember me? sebastian from al jazeera? >> yes, of course, you're very determined! >> nice to see you. sorry to keep, uh... >> that's alright. it's just that it's a horrible day. how long do you need? >> i mean we really needed as much time as possible but it's been kind of difficult to try to
get that. can we ask you some questions now? >> sure, sure let me dump this stuff. >> the one thing we've found difficult to talk to about with senior officials here, is the question of liability, nobody seems to be able talk about that even. what is the position? >> it's true, we cannot. as an official here in haiti, and as a civil servant, right now i cannot speak about it. >> who can we get answers from? >> i think it has to be at un headquarters. >> in new york? >> it is. i don't know whether you'll get an answer at this point, but the people who are reviewing this are at headquarters, they're in the legal department and they're working with the secretary-general's office on this. >> we followed nigel's advice. it seemed like the only way of getting any answers for the families in haiti was to head to where all those decisions are seemingly taken - new york.
epidemic? >> the last thing drug companies wanted anybody to think was that, this was a prescribing problem >> fault lines, al jazeera america's hard hitting... >> today they will be arrested... >> ground breaking... they're firing canisters of gas at us... award winning investigative documentary series... opioid wars only on al jazeera america we'd travelled from haiti to new york to get answers for the families who'd waited more than a year for the un to respond to their lawsuit over the cholera outbreak. but before we even arrived at un headquarters, we got word from mario's legal partners in the us that a decision had already been made. >> they sent me an email shortly before they made the public announcement, they sent me an email with the letter. >> what did it say? >> the letter was one paragraph about how the un was sorry about the cholera and the harm it caused. several paragraphs about all the things they were doing to combat cholera, and then a paragraph at
the end saying they were not going to respond justly to cholera victims. >> human rights lawyer brian concannon says he'd been expecting the un would try to avoid paying compensation, but that the lack of any explanation caught him completely off guard. >> it was also a slap in the face to the 660,000 haitians who have contracted cholera, and the 8,000 who have died so far, or at least their families. >> the un announced its decision to the world in a brief, 5-minute statement. there was no press conference and since then - as in haiti - there had been no further comment to the media. >> now i've asked several officials who can actually talk to us inside this building, and the one person we've been told we can interview is a spokesperson for the secretary general. >> claims found to be outside the scope of section 29 of the convention are "not-receivable". the consequence of a finding that a claim is not-receivable is that the claim will not receive further consideration by the organization. >> that statement was very
brief. >> it's a brief statement, it's a legal statement and that's about all we're going to say on that. >> but why is the claim "non-receivable" ? >> well it's not in the united nations practice to discuss the details of or responses to claims against the organization. >> so you don't have to explain yourselves? >> no. >> you're saying that not only do they not get compensation, but you don't even have to explain why? >> well, that's exactly what i said, that's the united nations policy. >> what would you say to a family member in haiti who has had somebody die as a result of this disease? >> i would basically say... as a un employee or as a human being? >> both? >> i would simply say, "i'm really sorry about your loss, i'm really sorry that cholera happened, we don't exactly know what the origins are but we're working as hard as we can to address the issue." >> but everybody knows what the origins are! the scientific community is united... >> our... our panel told us that it was due to a confluence of circumstances... >> including being brought to haiti most likely by un
peacekeepers... >> that's not what it said. >> wait a minute. so the un still maintains that nepalese soldiers weren't the most likely cause of cholera in haiti? we asked one of their own scientists. >> the most likely source of cholera into haiti was someone associated with the mirebalais minustah facility. >> danielle lantagne was one of the experts appointed by the un to investigate the nepalese base. >> they found a rage of evidence pointing towards the un peacekeepers including the type of cholera was very similar to an outbreak in nepal. >> since the time of our report, our conclusions have been significantly strengthened. the nepal strain of cholera was fully sequenced and compared to the haitian strain, and when they did that direct comparison it was found that of the 4 million base pairs in cholera there was only 1 base pair that was different between the two strains. and in genetics we consider that an exact match.
>> as far we know the claims that they are giving us are non-receivable, and that's under international law. >> stone-walled by this official, we decided there must be someone at un headquarters who could explain the organization's decision. before security could shut us down. eventually, we found a more senior spokesperson. >> is there anyone else? because seriously he was literally reading from a piece of paper. >> it seems a little odd to me that you're interviewing me about the interview you had with my deputy. >> well, we're trying to get answers and he wasn't able to give any. he just said that's something i don't have answers to. >> well why do you think it would be any different with me? >> is there anyone who would have those answers? >> sebastian, you've asked me that question 3 times now and i think you know what the answer is. (approaching camera) and i think it would actually be quite polite if you would switch this off now. yeah... don't you think?
>> at every turn, the story from un officials was the same - outright refusal to accept any responsibility, yet a complete inability to explain why. it was the same from haiti to new york. from those on the ground, to those at the very top. >> mr. secretary-general! >> what explanation is there for the fact that there is no compensation to the families of victims? >> i think i have made it quite clear the reason why this case is not "receivable". >> was it your decision ultimately? whose decision was it in the end? >> oh yes, it was my decision but based on careful consideration. >> do you think it's the right decision? >> (pauses)yeah... i think so. >> but for the families of the victims? >> why don't you, why don't you talk to my legal counsel? >> so you're saying there is no possibility at all of speaking with anyone from legal counsel? >> no... >> following the secretary-general's advice, i did put several calls in but was told the un's legal counsel was
unavailable for comment. >> so we've spotted the secretary-general again in this room and we're going to try to catch him when he comes out. >> secretary, we haven't been given access to the office of legal counsel. you said we could get access to the... >> speak to my legal counsel. >> well we've just been told that the media office has said that they don't actually want us back in the building at all because of displeasure at the fact we've been asking questions to officials in the hallways. they've said that we're effectively banned from filming in the united nations complex. >> on an intellectual level, the un's rejection of our claims was expected.
but on an emotional level, the un's rejection was still very hard to take because you're left thinking about people in bocozel who lost their child, the family in sodeau who lost the father and mother and are condemned to generational poverty, and you think that their chances of getting justice have been reduced. >> in haiti - along with their sadness - the costs of burying their dead have left the family that we met with mario and his lawyers severely in debt. their son's grave is in a cemetery close to their house - the death of the last male in the family
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